Ahead of the Brisbane Olympic Games, South East Queensland (SEQ) is slated to see a wave of new infrastructure projects start. All tiers of government have signed the SEQ City Deal that will kick-start more than 40 pieces of new infrastructure, which includes building a Business Case for a new First Nations’ Cultural Centre.
This is an exciting time for the region, and also an opportunity to re-imagine what inclusivity looks like in our cities. As a company, WSP is committed to helping its clients, and government bodies, engage with Traditional Landowners on projects like these – all of which start on Country. Our Indigenous Specialist Services team is dedicated to do just this. They specialise in ensuring projects represent the culture and knowledge of our nation’s First People – thereby leaving a cultural legacy that is connected to thousands of years of Indigenous history.
To understand the role WSP can play, we spoke with our Principal Aboriginal Affairs Consultant and Dhuduroa-Yorta Yorta man, Allan Murray, and with National Executive (Performance, Participation and Change) Kirsten Ruckert.
Breaking down barriers to engagements
For some years now, the Aboriginal Design Movement has been gaining momentum. It is seeing the development of a new Australian design vernacular, which actively incorporates Indigenous co-design into new public infrastructure. Interior designer and Walbanga and Wadi Wadi woman, Alison Page, is the author of a new book about Indigenous design and co-creation. She told the Australian Design Review that, “Indigenous architecture is not a style, but a culturally appropriate process.”
Allan Murray says there’s been a substantial shift recently when it comes to Indigenous co-design of projects. He says, “The goal with all of our work is to create legacy projects that Traditional Owners are proud of. For too long Traditional Owners have been left out of the conversation. It's only now, over the last couple of years, when people are starting to really listen, and understand, that they’re wanting to have these conversations around active engagement and co-design. We are now seeing instances of everyone sitting at the same table and passing the direct design or engagement opportunities to Indigenous people, so they can have the conversations respectfully and not have those transactional relationships that have been seen in the past.”
Our Indigenous Specialist Services team takes an active role in engagement, working as the bridge between clients and Traditional Owners. The team offers many services, from co-design to developing culturally specific protocols to identifying community legacy opportunities and creating legal and moral guidelines – to name but a few of their specialisations.
Allan adds, “A big part of what we do is to take clients on that cultural journey. On the way, we’re breaking down barriers. We do that by having those challenging conversations or by letting clients and stakeholders pose those hard questions. It’s about overcoming the feeling that we really don't know each other, and we really don't know how to ask certain questions. What we do in this team, is facilitate those conversations and hold everyone's hands through the process.”
Engagement that leads to award-winning design
The Indigenous Specialist Services team is currently working on several exciting projects around the country – such as consulting on Sydney’s M6 Stage 1 motorway project. And, some of their recent work has been recognised at the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) Landscape Architecture Awards. The Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP) saw us consult on level crossings removals and new infrastructure along the Frankston rail line in Victoria. At one of the key sites, the team facilitated the co-design of a large urban marker and a yarning circle next to the Karrum Karrum Bridge. The urban marker features a diamond pattern, which is an identifier of the local Boonwurrung/Bunurong people, and also depicts an eagle ‘Bunjuil’, which is the spiritual creator of the Port Philip Bay region where the bridge is located.
Allan says, “On that project, our clients really put the ownership and respect in our hands, so we could be on the project as technical and cultural advisors. This allowed us to act as advocates breaking out the rich cultural design opportunities.
“And, we had some wonderful feedback from the community about the yarning circle. We heard directly from Traditional Owners that they were thankful and really proud of this beautiful site that will leave a cultural legacy – where we were able to embed a cultural practice (the yarning circle) into the built environment. It’s a cultural practice that's been going on for many, many thousands of years. And to do that in their own backyard, they were extremely thankful and grateful.”
Kirsten Ruckert adds that Indigenous co-design of projects like these leads to highly successful outcomes because the result is something people are proud to have in their neighbourhood.
She says, “What we end up with, is these beautiful pieces of infrastructure, whether it’s a bridge or a pier or a public space. There's a sense of pride from the whole community and from stakeholders. And, you get an additional benefit in that we see less graffiti, and less damage to the infrastructure as well. On top of that, the community really responds to and interacts with the infrastructure, with a true sense of ownership.”
A step towards cultural healing
For Allan, one of the most rewarding aspects of his job is the happiness he hears in Traditional Owners’ voices, once they see a project actualised.
He adds, “I’m humbled when I hear from stakeholders that the role we play is actually giving the Traditional Owners’ in a land council, for example, a sense of purpose. And it’s giving them an aspect of cultural healing because they're presenting their cultural values and cultural practices. It’s knowledge that’s been within their family group for a very long time and we've been able to create the room, the culturally safe space, so they're more than happy to pass their knowledge on.
“The spaces we create allows them to articulate and tell their beautiful stories, and in some cases, they might not have told them to anyone else before.
“It's a nice place to be at WSP today, playing this role that is elevating everyone's cultural awareness and cultural appreciation. It’s a good place to sit, and it’s really humbling.”
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